Helium Shortage Threatens Parties as We Know Them - NBC4 Washington

Helium Shortage Threatens Parties as We Know Them

1996 law forced government to sell stockpile by 2015



    A shortage of helium could not only put a damper on your upcoming celebrations, but it could also put some people's lives at risk. News4's Erika Gonzalez reports. (Published Thursday, May 24, 2012)

    Parades and parties and high-pitched voices are common uses of helium, but the gas has many more. Unfortunately, it's in short supply.

    It's peak season for balloons at Party Mania, but owner Wei Ferrara said the helium shortage is deflating business.

    “You just take it for granted that the helium will always be there,” she said.

    It may not.

    In 1996, the Helium Privatization Act called on the government to sell most of its helium reserves by 2015.

    Ferrara said she now pays almost 50 percent more for her helium than she did less than a decade ago. She gets her tanks from three suppliers, and one has placed a cap on the amount of tanks she can order.

    But helium isn’t just for balloons. It’s used in flat-screen TVs and MRIs and even helps babies breathe.

    So, is it really possible for the world to run out of the gas?

    “Helium, like oil, is created by natural processes, but it’s a very slow process, so whatever is in the ground now is pretty much all that's available," physicist Gregg Harry said.

    The world could function without the non-renewable gas, but balloons and Ferrara’s business would be grounded.